When I was growing up,and for many many decades before that, raising a child to be a Red Sox fan was a questionable parenting choice. Maybe the best thing you could say about it was that it would give you something to complain about. You would love them because your family loved them and because it was a badge of honor. You would bite your nails each October wondering how your team would be struck down by a curse you claimed you didn’t believe in. They would raise your hopes and dash them, periodically self-destructing so catastrophically that you wondered why you did this to yourself in the first place.
Of course, that has changed in the last few years, and in a few generations the visceral reaction that Sox fans have to the pre-2004 era will be no more. That, of all things, was what was on my mind this weekend when my parish played the Cardinal’s message appealing for support of the Catholics Come Home campaign in Boston.
There’s a lot of lamenting the lack of evangelization among Catholics. We’re never the ones out on the street corner handing out tracts, and my unscientific research suggests that we’re also not nagging/inviting our friends and neighbors to join us at Church. It could be shame (we have been somewhat battered in the press the last few years), over-confidence (if the Church has survived 2000 years, what does it need me for?), respite (after some of our aggressive missionary activity in the previous centuries, perhaps we could all use a break). Also, the “optimism about salvation” (to steal a phrase from Rahner) after the Second Vatican Council allowed us to relax a bit – no pagan babies on other continents are going to limbo because we didn’t get over there and dunk ’em quick enough.
No surprise here, but when people ask me if I love the Church, I reply “is the Pope Catholic?” (and then wait a few agonizing seconds before asking “that’s funny, right?”) So what would I tell someone if I wanted to convince them to ‘come home’? What do I find so attractive that it outweighs the Red Sox-esque disappointments?
I love being part of something bigger than myself. I love that my relationship with God isn’t solely mediated by my personal capacity for prayer. I love that my community shoots for the moon despite some spectacular crashes. I can promise anyone thinking about “coming home” that you will be let down, you will be embarrassed, you will be forced to reconcile a million conflicting views – or perhaps just to let them live in tension. We will try to make it worth it.
Liturgy has always been the ‘summit and source’ of my own faith, and I’m convinced it’s where the rubber meets the road for many believers. Ritual is something we can do. Even when we feel nothing, when everything else is falling apart, we can sit and stand and recite and sing with our neighbors and family and friends and even our ancestors. It doesn’t matter what mood anyone is in or the state of my personal devotions: God will show up in a particular way, present on the altar, every time, broken like we are.
That’s what we have to offer. It may not be enough, but it’s the closest I’ve found.